My Favorite – Vietnam

Many travelers agree that Vietnam is their favorite country in SE Asia.  If you’re thinking of skipping it think again, if you’re worried about the past, don’t be.  The people are extremely friendly, helpful, and open.  The scenery is amazing and there is loads of things to do.  I loved the people working in the rice paddy terraces and the clean beautiful beaches.  Be sure to apply for your visa before arriving as Vietnam is the one country in Asia which you cannot get a visa upon arrival.  Apply online if you fly or visit the Vietnamese embassy in Bangkok if you plan to travel overland.

Vietnam Flag

Currency:  Vietnamese Dong  (20,000 dong =  1USD)

Climate:  The north and south of Vietnam has very different climates.  The south is hot all the time and sweltering in the summer (June- August).  Avoid the north during winter as it is cold and rainy.

Religion:  Mahayana Buddhist


 Ho Chi Minh City – (Saigon)

Originally called Saigon but was renamed HCMC after the communists marched into the city and took control of the Presidential Palace.  The city is very large and is broken up into 18 districts, but most people stick to central HCMC.  This was one of my favorite cities in all of Asia.

Where to Stay:  Most buses coming from out of town will drop you off at the park near the De Tham district.   Here there are over a dozen hostels and guest houses to choose from.

Eating:  There is a restaurant on every corner and street stalls in between.  Follow the locals or look for a place that is busy.  The Pho noodle soups are famous and some of the best and cheapest come from the make shift street stalls rather than the fixed restaurants that charge double for less taste.

Night Life:  The backpacker crowd usually hangs out on the tables set up street side near the hostels in the De Tham district.  Servers will bring you drinks regularly and you’ll meet lots of people.   Be aware of the crime scene after dark, purse snatchers are common and often on motorbikes for an easy escape.

What to do: Most of the sights in HCMC are within walking distance.  Check out this blog post of our day exploring the city on foot.

Side Trips:  Cu Chi Tunnels and War Remnants Museum

Where to next:   – Phnom Penh, Cambodia by bus or boat.  We took a 4 day trip up the Mekong Delta from Saigon to Phnom Penh.  It was a very cool experience and I would recommend it to everyone.

 Nha Trang

 The beach getaway for everyone from Russians to the Vietnamese themselves.   Miles of white sand beaches await you and a city life to go with it.  We spent one day at the crazy island theme park of Vinpearl

Where to Stay:  There are high rise hotels right on the beach for those looking for all the comforts.  Guest houses are also available if you have a travel partner to share the room with and are looking to get out of the crowded backpacker hostels.

Eating:  All I need to say is Seafood!

Nightlife:  Buckets full of local really bad liquor mixed with whatever you want for a few dollars is the drink of choice in Nha Trang.  Many bars have live music and many others are pumping tunes that you can dance too.  Start out at the red Apple Club for cocktail specials and end the night dancing at the Nha Trang Sailing Club right on the beach.

What to do:  Lying on the beach, swimming in the sea, drinking lots of water to cure hangovers is where you will find most people.   If you didn’t join in the party and have some energy I highly recommend heading to Vinpearl – the all inclusive island theme park.  Click here to see

Side Trips:

  • Da Lat –  In the mountains on the way from Nha Trang south toward HCMC.
  • Mui Ne – Famous for its windsurfing and seafood.  This is a hot tourist spot where the prices for accommodation are a little more than other places in Asia.

Where to next:  South towards HCMC or North to Hoi An, Vietnam.

Hoi An, Vietnam 

One of the most lovely places in all of Asia!  This historic city is famous for shopping especially tailor made suits and dresses.  There are many day tours available in the area and also a beach only 4km away.  We had such a great time we ended up staying twice as long as expected.

Where to Stay:  The town is old and some rooms are small due to owners trying to squeeze in as many makeshift rooms as possible. As I always say, look at the room before you pay.

Eating:  A cluster of amazing restaurants sits just across the Thu Bon River on An Hoi Island.  Cross the Japanese covered bridge and turn left.  If you continue past the restaurants you will come to a tent covered group of food stalls where you can find cheap good eats.

Shopping:  Custom clothes are a big deal here.  Custom everything from Jackets and Jumpers to Shoes.

What to do: Museums, markets, and beaches Hoi An has it all.

Side Trips:  Hue, Vietnam –  A larger city than Hoi An with less to do.  Makes for a good overnighter or even a daytrip.  Visit the Citadel in the morning and take a boat out on the Perfume river in the afternoon.

Hanoi, Vietnam

Most travelers come to Hanoi just to get on a boat to the beautiful Ha Long Bay where they can sail to hidden coves and beautiful islands the most popular of which is Cat Ba Island.  Now Hanoi has started to have more businneses and hostels catering to backpackers to try and keep them in the city a little longer and why not there is loads to do.

Where to Stay:  Depends on what you’d like to do, but the best places for backpackers are the Old Quarter or the French quarter.  See What to do below.

Eating and Drinking:  While in Hanoi you definitely need to have some Pho noodle soup from a street stall. My favorite is the Shrimp Pho!   After you’ve gotten your eat on head over to the red river for some nightlife.  For dancing try the Lighthouse called Phuc Tan Bar or the party boat called Solace.

Shopping:  If you are looking for silks then this is where  you will get the best price.

What to do:  Visit the cities lakes West lake in the north or Hoan Kiem Lake in the center both of which have temples and pagodas to explore. If your into museums head to the French quarter where you will find the National Museum of Vietnamese History among others.  The Old Quarter is also a must see with its small streets that still have their names based on the shops that used to be there five centruries ago.

Side Trips:   Sa Pa- In the mountains north of Hanoi where the weather is cool and the scenery is green.   To go on a hike here you after hire a guide or go with a tour group but it’s worth it to see Fan Si Pan which is Vietnams highest mountain.

Where to next:  South along the Vietnam Coast: Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, HCMC

This is also where the story of boots began.  Our pet chicken that was supposed to travel into Cambodia with us.   See the videos on youtube…